Dr. Wei Li joined us early this year to co-found WuXi Healthcare Ventures (“WXHV”) with WuXi AppTec (“WX”) CFO, Ed Hu and CEO, Dr. Ge Li. WXHV identifies and partners with the most ambitious life science entrepreneurs around the world. It leverages the experience, the talent, and the resources of both WXHV and WX to provide its portfolio companies with the competitive advantage needed to build, grow, and scale world-class life science companies. Before joining WXHV, Wei was an Executive Partner at Fidelity where he focused on life sciences investments in US and Asia. Wei also has work experience both on the science and management sides of the biotech and pharma industries. After graduating with a PhD in Biochemistry from Harvard University, Wei worked as a scientist at Vertex Pharmaceuticals and Serono in a strategic marketing role, then went on to found Innovent Biologics, a biopharmaceutical company that is dedicated to the development and manufacturing of biologic therapeutics. Wei truly brings a wealth of experience that makes him relatable to scientists, entrepreneurs, and VCs alike. We are very excited to have him join the WuXi family!
Thank you for taking the time to talk with us, Wei, we know you are a very busy man! Let’s start off by telling us a bit more about your background before co-founding WuXi Healthcare Ventures.
Li: I am a scientist by training and an entrepreneur at heart. I completed my bachelor’s degree in Chemical Physics many years ago, before switching to biochemistry and genetics during my graduate study at Harvard University. I was fascinated by the intersection of biology and chemistry. After graduation, I worked at various biotech companies and in 2003 became a venture capitalist focusing on early stage life sciences investment opportunities in both US and China. Before co-founding WuXi Healthcare Ventures (“WXHV”), I founded a biopharmaceutical company called Innovent Biologics in China and supported its rapid growth in the last few years.
What inspired you to found WuXi Healthcare Ventures? How did it come about?
Li: I have marveled at the explosive growth that WuXi has achieved over the past decade and am impressed by the cross-border, high quality, open service platform that WuXi has built for its customers. WuXi has been and continues to be a crucial contributor in the life sciences industry in both U.S. and China. It is a highly entrepreneurial place with passionate, hard-working people who really want to make a difference and I wanted to be part of it, being an entrepreneur myself.
I have always looked at the venture capital business as a service business, similar to what WuXi offers to its clients. We are cheerleaders, supporters, and witnesses of entrepreneurs who take a concept, a discovery, a technology break-through, and more importantly a vision and passion into the reality and, by doing so, bring patients high quality therapies and treatments.
The founding of WuXi Healthcare Ventures is a natural evolution from WuXi’s initial venture effort and my personal career trajectory. Simply put, it is “Yuanfen” in the Chinese word, or “meant to be” in its English translation. I have known Dr. Ge Li and Edward Hu for many years and enjoyed working with them at Hua Medicine and Adagene, the two companies in China that we co-invested when I was at my prior firm. Dr. Ge Li once told me that his dream is to support entrepreneurs in US and China to create the next Genentech, the next Celgene, the next Medtronic. I share his passion and believe that WuXi’s service platform and WXHV’s risk capital will be a very powerful combination to fulfill such a dream.
You just started operations – what can you tell us about your portfolio thus far and what are your goals for the next year?
Li: Yes, we are indeed in the early phase of building up our venture firm, a very exciting opportunity to be an entrepreneur in this regard. I believe that we have a highly differentiated, powerful investment strategy and have seen early evidence of success by implementing such a strategy, namely “Find in US and Build in China”. Recognizing the importance of both U.S. and China healthcare markets, increasingly intertwined yet still distinctly different, our fund is truly cross-border by design and we plan to generate outsized return to our investors by participating in both markets. Our investment team consists of experienced investors and company builders, all with cross-border work experience and long track records of success. We are one of the rare teams that is rooted in sciences and technology, yet fully immersed in the regulatory and commercial world of the two markets.
You have been in the VC business for years. In your opinion, what is the key to successful collaborations between VCs and portfolio companies? Do you have an example that comes to mind?
Li: As mentioned earlier, VCs are essentially service providers in our mind. Therefore, we treat our portfolio companies with a service mentality and support them with value-added services beyond our capital. One of the best examples is our investment in Callidus, which was subsequently acquired by Amicus. The full story authored by Dr. Hung Do, founder/CEO of Callidus, is published on our fund’s website.
What do you predict will be some of the most significant developments in the healthcare industry in 2016, and how may they impact better solution for patients?
Li: I believe that China will continue its rapid build-up of domestic R&D in both therapeutics and medtech spaces. The gap between China and US, in terms of innovation and product-driven development, is shrinking. On the other hand, the healthcare service industry in China is still vastly different from that of U.S. and I don’t see any near-term convergence. In U.S., I would expect significant development in precision medicine, particularly in the area of oncology, which will translate into better care and higher responder rate in treated cancer patients who have faced with very limited, if any, solutions in the past.